Bird Dogs & Training  |  04/11/2023

Thinking Small


The case for little bird dogs

By Tom Carpenter

Let’s get this out of the way: I love all bird dogs. Big or small. Fast or slow. Far ranger or close worker. Every color of the fur rainbow. Pointer or flusher. Accomplished retriever or just a good old “I’ll show ya where it is!” worker-bee. Cuddle-bum or all-business (though I would argue that the very best bird dogs are a combination of those two traits).

There’s my disclaimer. You shall be referred back to it with a smiley face if you take umbrage at this thought:

Here is why I especially love a small bird dog, and why you might consider one.

But first: What is small?

There is no absolute answer to that, small being a relative term and all. But let’s say in the low-30-pound range, and below. That encompasses most of the bird dogs I have ever had, and certainly describes the current one Lark (insert winky face here), who weighs in at about 29 pounds.

Many breeds will fit somewhere from almost-all to a special-few individuals into the category, and that includes specimens from many otherwise-larger breeds.

As a second aside and to that point, my father always said, when we walked into some southwestern Wisconsin barn to look at another Bassett hound for our kennel, “Tommy, take the smallest female of any litter,” words which have greatly simplified my life and have yet to steer me wrong. My first one, Nikki, weighed all of 32 pounds.

So back to it. Why a small dog?

Curled up tight, she is about the size of basketball. I just wanted you to know that.

Via an average-sized and discrete duffel bag, she is easy to zip up and carry in to places she might not be allowed. That’s all I’m sayin’ there.

A big bag of dog food lasts a long, long time. I have yet to do the math and calendar on that one.

She can run forever all day long in prairie grouse country. There is a reason marathoners are built as they are, and not like offensive linemen.

For late-season roosters, she squirms and tunnels under snowed-over cattails, not through them. That can make her an all-day dog at the other end of the season too.

Early season, middle or late, she is easy to carry or toss over obstacles such as fences, creeks, snow drifts, maybe-or-maybe-not-frozen ditches, you name it. I even have carry-handles on one of her winter vests for just such shenanigans. I did do the math on this one: She weighs about the same as 39 cans of after-hunting Busch Light in my friend Scott Rall’s garage fridge; that’s less than two cases, and anybody can toss that.

And when I butt her up against a full-blown rooster, the rooster (with tail of course) is longer than she is. I like that, don’t ask me why, and I just wanted you to know.

There are many other “don’t ask me why’s” in my case for a small dog. It’s just what fits me. Like the way she fits just-right next to me in bed on a cold winter night when our shared dreams are of wild places and the smell of prairie grass and, for her, the scent of a rooster scurrying ahead and doing its damndest to evade us.

I might even wake up with her chin nestled under mine.

Tom Carpenter is editor at Pheasants Forever. He thinks big on many topics, but goes small when it comes to bird dogs.


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